The Link routes are unique in Auckland in that they’re some of the few cases where AT try to put any effort into creating and marketing a public transport brand. But while the brand has strong recognition, the experience leaves a lot to be desired, most noticeably the Inner and Outer links which due to their loopy nature, are unreliable with buses often end up bunched together and having long pauses at places like Victoria Park.
So it’s relief to hear that Auckland Transport are finally looking to fix the Outer Link, possibly one of the most complained about bus routes in Auckland. It’s not that the route is all bad, but the Inner and Outer Links were conceived at a time when we didn’t have a connected network, when you had to pay a separate fare to change between buses and in for some buses you needed a completely different card too. One of their reasons for existence was to provide cross-town connections to what was at the time was a very city centre focused bus network. But since the advent of the new bus network the Outer Link in particular stands out as trying to do too many things but as a result does none of them really well, especially its use as a cross-town service due to the diversion up to Valley Rd and Mt Eden with AT saying about the change
“This is the least used section of the Outer Link and it would mean we can improve reliability of the busiest sections of the routes … as these are subject to buses bunching and unreliable timings resulting in a poor customer experience,” AT spokesman Mark Hannan said.
When AT first consulted on the new network they did plan to break up the Outer Link with a route that went from Mt Albert to Onehunga via the city centre. A second route would then run from Point Chevalier to Glen Innes via St Lukes Rd/Balmoral Rd/Greenlane West, as can be seen in the map below.
The Outer Link became probably the biggest disappointment of the new network when AT backed away from making any changes following a small but vocal campaign to save it with AT taking the view it was better to get the rest of the network in place and come back to the Outer Link later.
Last week, newly elected Waitemata Local Board member Graeme Gunthorp, who has also written about fixing the Inner Link, tweeted an image of the changes AT are proposing to make in a consultation due to start next week. The route is effectively split in two.
- The Northern/Western part of the route is retained linking St Lukes to Newmarket via the city centre.
- The 650 gets upgraded to the 65 frequent route
In addition there is a a new 640 route from Newmarket to Valley Rd via Mt Eden with a suggestion that it be extended to kingsland in the future.
I think in general this is a big improvement on the current Outer Link and by breaking the loop will help in making that service much more reliable and therefore more useful. However I do have a few additional thoughts about this.
- Perhaps AT should go back to the original new network idea of linking this to the 30 route on Manukau Rd which would have the added benefit of reducing the number of buses on Symonds St. The one issue with this though is there is probably uneven demand on both sides of the route.
- The most heavily used part of the 20 route is between Kingsland and Wynyard with much lighter use between Kingland and St Lukes. Instead the 20 could be linked to the 640 that could create an additional full crosstown route.
- The biggest downside of the 65 going via Western Springs is it misses any connections to the Western Line and fixing that isn’t likely to be easy. One long-term option could be that we move the Baldwin Ave station. The station is currently right in the middle of a lot of pocket of housing but the western half of that catchment is also within easy walking distance of the Mt Albert station so perhaps shifting it about 350m east, so the eastern end of the station is connected to St Lukes Rd could be possible. It would have the added advantage of moving the station off the curve. Thinking about the catalyst for this, it could tied in with the need to:
- Grade separate the Asquith Ave and Rossgrove Tce level crossings
- Lengthen the platforms to allow for 9-car trains – a 9-car platform would extend to about Asquith Ave.
The biggest downside to this is it would still be very close to Morningside and while I would love if if were able to combine those stations into one for faster journeys for those coming from future out, I don’t think that’s likely and there’s a lot of development allowed around Morningside that we would want to serve.
- Given its more prominent status as a cross-town route, it would also be good if AT were to also look at how the 650 connects with Southern Line at Greenlane. Currently the closest bus stops are about 400m away.
It’s good to see AT finally looking to address the Outer Link but given it’s a route a lot of people are care about, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some strong support to keep it as is.